REPRESENTATION MASTERS
The Story of THRS, Travel & Hospitality Representation Services 
An interview by Yvan Vermeesch

The XO Private Founder, Yvan Vermeesch, sits down for the exclusive interview series with, Yeishan Goel, CEO of the amazing THRS (India & Middle East), Travel & Hospitality Representation Services. THRS is the region's leading luxury hospitality consulting and representation firm, focusing on sales, media & communications, and integrated marketing for luxury tourism brands worldwide. THRS takes pride in understanding the unique DNA of each brand and subsequently implementing high-precision strategies that enable successful outcomes. A well-established network of travel partners and luxury curators forms the core of the company’s sales repertoire.

THRS - Travel & Hospitality Representation Services - has developed into the leading representation and consulting brand for luxury brands on the Indian market. How did this adventure start 10 years ago? What initiated this decision?

I have to admit that my foray into luxury travel was at best instinctive and not a result of any well-thought-out 10-year plan. Back then, I was managing an Indo-Israeli technology solutions venture in the SME space when I had an opportunity to dabble in the wonderful world of travel. We set up THRS soon after and only two things mattered – do we love it? And how do we operate with originality and a high ethical standard? This is where we focussed then and continue to even today.

Our brand ethos was to imagine the longevity of the business for 50+ years, focus on building goodwill, consistently deliver high-quality work with the right attitude and eventually success will follow. Ten years hence, we are blessed with great clientele, brands entrust us with their mandates and we’ve built a brilliant team that outperforms all the time.
Six Senses Bhutan
As always, it's of the greatest importance to stand out in the marketplace. What makes THRS different from the others? How would you describe the THRS DNA?

Early on, we made a conscious decision to exclusively work with luxury travel and hotel brands. Other companies operating in a similar space expanded their client repertoire to include midscale products or even different classifications such as tourism boards or DMCs. However, by focussing on a singular segment, we gained in expertise what we lost in diversity. Another area that sets us apart is our commitment to our sales capability, which lies at the heart of our business proposition. While most companies in our domain pitch themselves as marketeers, at THRS we truly embody integrated sales & marketing. We are no different from a high calibre hotel company operating its own office. We are also proud to be the only business in our category to offer revenue guarantees to our clients under the ‘THRS Revenue Assurance’ program.

I believe that our focus on goodwill and transparency forms the core of the DNA at THRS. Whether a client is associated with THRS for a term or a project, we are fiercely protective of our reputation and we never look at short-term profitability. Similarly, we take pride in maintaining transparency with our clients and colleagues. For example, with a no-closed-doors or books approach, most of the information is available to all our colleagues in the company. This has enabled us to create an environment of trust and motivation, and as a result, are proudly associated with industry professionals who have worked with us for a long time. At THRS, the average tenure of our colleagues exceeds 5 years which is a testament to our culture. 
"Our underlying philosophy is great people beget great work"
Cape Weligama, Sri Lanka
THRS features an impressive roster of premium clients. Could you name some of the brands that you currently represent and some of those that you have successfully worked with in the past?

In the initial years, we were fortunate to have the support and patronage of marquee brands that gave us an opportunity to showcase the calibre of our work that we set out to do. Our earliest partnerships will always hold a special place. We have been privileged to partner with Relais & Chateaux, the French brand that celebrates the art of hospitality and cuisine, and have enjoyed story-telling and brand revenue building for them from the Indian Subcontinent for almost a decade.

Similarly, we associated with Six Senses early on and remain grateful for their confidence in our capabilities even today. Both Relais & Chateaux and Six Senses continue to be our strongest partners.

Over the years we have serviced a variety of brands such as SHA Wellness, a leading health clinic in Spain and also thoroughly enjoyed our partnership with Preferred Hotels & Resorts, the largest independent hotels brand in the world, where we managed their PR advisory in India for 5 years. Today independent and iconic names like Soneva, The Residence and Resplendent Ceylon grace our portfolio.

Is there a specific type of property and/or brand that you would be very keen to represent on the Indian market?

Yes, firstly I think there is a big difference in how we approach prospective partnerships vis-à-vis other companies in our space. Most other representation companies are perhaps accountable for sales and marketing, but not necessarily for the product and its delivery to the client. This is one of our foremost criteria – we exclusively prospect clients that bring in a deep commitment to service delivery and are not hesitant to tweak or fine-tune their product to work better in the market. This is also great for our buyers who support us unhindered and have confidence in the new products launched by THRS, due to our strong attention to quality.

As we continue to expand our offering, we remain keen on establishing partnerships with iconic hotel brands in gateway cities such as Tokyo, Paris, New York and Hong Kong as well as marquee leisure hot spots of the world such as Mallorca, Corsica, European riviera and the islands.

Having said that, as long as the product is of the right calibre, caters to the leisure and high-end MICE segment, and really goes out for its customers, we are interested to explore an association. We believe that travel representation or luxury sales should inculcate a presale experience for the buyer that maintains the tenor of the guest service at the hotel. To ensure this we bring on-board exceptional industry professionals. Our underlying philosophy is great people beget great work.
"Our underlying philosophy is great people beget great work"
Cape Weligama, Sri Lanka
The Indian market is still very much a mystery for many in terms of size and potential. Which other market could you compare it with in terms of its size? At which pace has the high-end segment of the Indian market been developing and what growth is expected within the next five to ten years?

If you look at statistics, as of 2 years ago the Indian market was the fastest-growing luxury tourism market in the world with 13.5-14% CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) The economic growth, population figures, the ratio of the middle class to the affluent class and the percentage of billionaires are statistical figures available for all in the public domain. I see the Indian market as a complex and diverse pool of opportunity. In many other markets such as China, the development for luxury hotel revenues may largely be achieved by predictable strategic endeavours and selling tools but not in India. In order to develop it to its potential, one has to look at the market as a whole and its relevance to the destination and product on one side and peel back the layers of micro-segmentation on the other side. Segmentation is not restricted to geography between tier 1, 2 and 3 cities but also includes the types of travellers and their requirements. This further divides itself into different travel groups like celebrations and weddings. For example, something as simple as family travel differs widely in South India and North or West India.

Indian Subcontinent is like Europe. You’ve got many countries in the EU and in the same way we’ve got several states that make up for the Indian Union and they are as diverse with different languages and cultures. For the next 10 years, the Indian market shall continue to grow speedily and robustly. For example, despite the fact only a hundred thousand people have travelled during the pandemic to destinations like Maldives, India is already the largest market for Maldives today and the average spend is phenomenal. Another aspect of the Indian market is that it is not a fast burn market. While there may be short-term results for brands looking to cultivate this region, but India is a slow and steady market. Unless the hotel brand is in a uniquely advantageous position due to its monopolistic location or USP, it takes a couple of years to build brand affinity and confidence, and once this happens then it’s a steep climb up. This aspect is different from other markets.

Affluent Indian travellers are reputed to be 'deal centric and service heavy'. Is that a correct stereotype? How would you describe discerning Indian travellers?

Yes, you’re absolutely correct and it is a fantastic way to describe most if not all of us. However, it is noteworthy to decode deal centrism and service heaviness in this context. Affluent Indian travellers are ‘deal centric’, not because of their inability or lack of intent to spend, but because of a constant instinct to drive a strong bargain. They could be buying at a hundred dollars or a hundred thousand dollars a night, but regardless of the price point, the sentiment to bargain will be the same. Deals, value adds and something just a little extra is important to the traveller in India. Indian luxury travellers also fit the ‘service heavy’ attribute. While on a vacation, the insistence for a night-cap, coffee, baby food or Indian meals (for example) is natural and brands are expected to cater to these reasonable requests. Indian travellers expect good service and they are always happy to pay for it.
It is interesting to note that when the luxury conscious Indian travels with friends and family, they are the most generous with incidental spending. While looking for a good deal
may be perceived as a behavioural trend at the time of booking the accommodations, Indian luxury travellers would typically out-spend most nationalities on F&B and other incidentals and make wonderful brand advocates.
"At THRS, the average tenure of our colleagues exceeds 5 years which is a testament to our culture."  Yeishan Goel, CEO of THRS
Soneva Fushi, The Maldives
Soneva Jani, Maldives
Which destinations and type of holidays are favoured by the Indian elite? Is there some kind of pattern to be identified? Or, in other words, which brands would be most successful on the Indian market?

At different times of the year, Europe, Asia and North America lead the list. South Asia is much loved due to the close proximity. Europe has always been the mainstay for Indian travellers and North America is heavy with friends and family, so you will find long trips once a year, which are usually a mix of leisure and family travel with a combination of several short trips. Destinations that offer visa on arrival have an upper hand.

Indians are adventurous and eager to explore new destinations, experiences, culture, food and shopping, therefore India is a great market for launching of new destinations and products. Any destination within 10-12 hours of travel from India and with a moderate climate and good access has a great chance to build itself out.

After successfully covering the Indian market, you recently branched out to the United Arab Emirates and opened a new office there? Could you tell us something more about that?

For the last 3-4 years we have held a deep interest in the GCC. There are a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, the current landscape in terms of high calibre representation companies prospecting global brands for the Middle East source market is limited. Our ethical approach and relentless pursuit on behalf of our clients present a strong opportunity for brands looking at the burgeoning luxury traveller from the region. Secondly, we believe that the Middle East has a high affinity to the Indian market, and is fairly similar (service heavy), yet diverse (traveller preferences and travel trends).

Setting up a base in Dubai came naturally to us and was always dependent on us building the right human capital and leadership. Mithu Agarwal, who leads our office in the region was a client of THRS for many years so bringing her in was a seamless decision. We currently represent Relais & Chateaux and Resplendent Ceylon in the GCC and are ramping up our operations.

Are some of your existing clients following you into the GCC market? After all, that would be the best publicity for THRS.

Yes, I feel it is very natural to do so when you’ve held long-standing and entrusting relationships with your clients. When existing clients expand with us to new regions where we are establishing a foothold, it is definitely confidence creating and a testament of our work ethic. Both Relais & Chateaux and Resplendent Ceylon are fine examples of this and we are rapidly building revenue progression on their behalf from the GCC.

Do you have any other exciting developments in the pipeline?

I was hoping this question is asked because we have some very exciting developments in the pipeline. At THRS, we are constantly developing newer and innovative ways of working to appeal to the evolving traveller. The coming few years will see us consolidating our position and chartering new goals. We shall also cautiously continue to expand our footprint in other tourism centric source markets in the world. Currently, our primary focus is to further strengthen our servicing in India and expand our GCC operations with the right mix of talent and new partnerships. The last decade has been about learning and adapting, and with a strong foundation, we are expecting the next one to be about innovation and transformation. 
Yvan Vermeesch
                          
A Belgian by birth, Yvan Vermeesch grew up across Africa before heading to the Caribbean followed by the stunning city of Prague before calling the Mediterranean island of Mallorca home. Always looking to innovate across the board and with a clear penchant for everything experiential in travel, Yvan Vermeesch takes great pride in connecting the finest players in bespoke travel around the globe.
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